Marketers pay heed: this is what committed storytelling looks like – and why it matters

Minter Dial shares the secrets of award-winning filmmaking and navigating disruption on The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast

December 12, 2017

What committed storytelling looks like – and why it matters

All marketers tell stories, as Seth Godin puts it in the title of his classic 2012 book. However, not all marketers have the passion and dedication to a story that’s the hallmark of a great storyteller. In the latest episode of The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast, I met one that does.

Minter Dial has spent 27 years telling a story with huge personal resonance for his family and himself – but also for any member of the ‘Greatest Generation’ that fought in the Second World War, and anybody who lost loved ones in that conflict. He began researching the story of The Last Ring Home when working as a marketer for an equities analyst. He kept digging, researching and piecing together the strands of this tragic and remarkable tale during 16 years working in the cosmetics industry, when he became General Manager of Redken and a Senior Vice President at L’Oréal. He published the book and produced the film telling the story of his lost grandfather and the ring that he wore, while launching and running his Myndset brand consultancy business.

The result is a short film that has won awards at festivals across America – and which is fast taking on a momentum of its own. It’s a great example of the power of a story that has people genuinely committed to it – and as Minter explained in our interview, that’s hugely relevant to marketers and their agencies at the moment.

Minter and I discussed both The Last Ring Home, and Minter’s new book, Future Proof: How to get your business ready for the next disruption. On the face of it, these are very different pieces of work. However, the same principles of committed storytelling that made The Last Ring Home possible also have a starring role in Future Proof. For all of its expert discussion of disruptive forces from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Blockchain, Future Proof is also about empathy, trust and finding meaning in a changing world. That’s part of the reason why it’s been receiving rave reviews for its no-nonsense and deeply pragmatic approach to disruption in marketing.

Click on the link below to hear my full interview with Minter, including the incredible story behind The Last Ring Home, and the disruptive forces that he believes businesses must pay greatest attention to going forward. Then scroll down for the principles of committed storytelling in marketing that I’ll be taking away from our discussion:

  • ImageThink

Great stories take time

Storytelling can often involve a whole different level of time commitment to other forms of creative idea. That’s one of the inescapable conclusions from an Infographic showing the time famous novels took to write, which we shared on our blog last year. It’s also the conclusion that you’re left with after talking to Minter Dial. To succeed a story has to have a deeper resonance and layers of meaning beyond a simple plotline. It has to matter deeply. Because it matters, it often demands a deeper level of commitment to telling it the right way. It takes time to bring all of those layers of meaning to the surface. Great stories are often painstakingly pieced together over time.

Just imagine how many cosmetics ads Minter helped to create during the 27 years that he was researching The Last Ring Home. The stories that matter to your brand or business won’t necessarily be easy to tell – but that doesn’t make them any less worth telling. Don't give up on the unique power of a real story just because it can’t be produced at the same pace as an ad.

 

Respect for your audience is everything

Every smart content marketer respects their audience – so apologies if it sounds like I’m teaching grannies to suck eggs here. However, there are degrees of respect and commitment – and the deeper the respect the more compelling the results. Minter tells a great story of delaying a drive across America that will involve him arriving at his destination in the early hours of the morning, so that he can hear the story told by one veteran following a screening of his film. The way he tells that story shows how authentic his respect for that generation is. The Last Ring Home wouldn’t be the same without it.

 

Meaningful, responsive, collaborative: an agenda for future storytelling – and navigating disruption

In Future Proof, Minter describes ‘Meaningful’, ‘Responsibility’ and ‘Collaboration’ as the three mindsets that are essential for businesses and marketers looking to navigate disruption successfully. I would argue that these same principles apply to his approach to storytelling – finding a story with a meaning that’s worth sharing, feeling a sense of responsibility in the way that you tell it, and being hugely open-minded and collaborative about the form the story can take. Minter talks about the very different processes involved in writing a book and making a film – and about the very ways you set about telling a story in different timeframes. He’s found a way to communicate the story of The Last Ring Home in 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 26 minutes – and he’s currently working on a two-hour cut. This flexibility in storytelling is an essential skill in a multi-platform age.

 

There’s a difference between purpose and customer-centricity

Dig into the purpose of many brands and you’ll find it comes down to keeping customers happy. Minter believes that as marketers, we need to aim higher. He points to the example of Patagonia and Yvon Chouinard as an example of a business and a business leader committed to demonstrating how the world would be less well off without them. That’s the story behind your business that you should be aiming to tell. Assessing disruptive technologies by how they enhance or diminish your ability to tell that story is a great starting point for navigating the future.

 

VR is not the disruptive force you are looking for

In Future Proof, Minter lists 12 disruptive forces that all marketers need to pay attention to. They include AI, Blockchain, Cyber Security and the smartphone (which, he believes, brands still haven’t fully adapted to). Interestingly, they don’t include Virtual Reality (VR). It may have potential for the future, but it’s not yet advanced enough to make his list of disruptive technologies with real, practical value. It’s a reminder of the risks of adopting technologies just to get in early, rather than properly assessing how they can help tell your brand story.

 

Empathy, not performance, should be the real goal of AI

Minter tells the fascinating story of an AI experiment, run by Volkswagen, which he found himself involved with recently. He was introduced to a chatbot that asked him questions about his life and needs. Over the course of five days, Minter found the roles of the bot and himself being reversed. The thing was so darn intuitive and understanding that he found himself asking it questions – about life, the universe and everything in between. It was a stunning demonstration of the growing power of AI – or so it seemed.

At the end of the experiment, it was revealed that AI hadn’t been powering the chatbot alone. It had been assisted by human beings who monitored the conversation and were able to detect and respond to Minter’s needs in a more human way. This combination proved irresistible, and I think it provide a handy metaphor for how we can aim to use AI in marketing going forward: enhancing and scaling human interactions rather than replacing them.

If we focus technology solely on driving performance in terms of clicks, we’ll dehumanise people’s experience of brands on digital platforms – and do ourselves out of jobs in the meantime. If we focus that technology on enhancing our capability to tell stories that matter, then we’ll be multiplying the value of what we do, and taking marketing’s contribution to the next level. That’s surely the best way to future proof our own role in a changing world.

Special thanks to our friends at Image Think for this incredible graphic. Check out their website here.

If you’re just discovering us, you can catch up on all the previous episodes of the Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast here.  

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